Written by Mark O’Rowe
Directed by John Crowley
Starring Andrew Garfield, Peter Mullan, Shaun Evans and Katie Lyons
Boy A is a heartbreaking drama about a child criminal (Andrew Garfield), who, after 14 years, is released back into society to start again. In the opening scene, we are introduced to the two main characters, the child criminal, now 24, and his fatherly caseworker, Terry. We are thrown into the story with practically no exposition. Straight away, Terry (Peter Mullan) tells “Boy A” he can name himself. After some consideration, he settles on the name Jack. He must assume a new identity to avoid a life of scrutiny and danger. There are people out there who would like to exact revenge. He starts his new life in Manchester, he gets a job with some sort of shipping company. He loads the company van with packages and delivers them around town. This will come into play later, in a powerful and important scene, when Jack discovers a car that skidded off the road. He frequently meets with Terry to discuss his reintegration into a normal life as well as his coming to terms with his past.
As the movie goes on, we see flashbacks to Jack’s childhood leading up to the incident that lead to his incarceration. We see him as a passive boy, who’s best friend, Phillip, is a budding sociopath. We learn early on that Phillip took his own life from the guilt. Soon we discover they murdered a little girl, but it is not until the end of the film that we see what happened. Even then, we don’t see the actual murder. Jack is portrayed as a broken but well-meaning person with a nearly unbearable weight on his shoulders. He does, however, make friends at work despite his social awkwardness. He even gets a girlfriend, Michelle, played by Katie Lyons. They begin to fall in love, he and his friends become close and he becomes somewhat of a town hero. Of course, we know this can’t last.
It’s surprising how long it does last, percentage wise, in the plot of this film. The major conflict emerges late in Boy A. Once it arrives, what has been a thoughtful but slow film becomes fast-paced and devastating. Unfortunately, in society, a person can end up being defined by one action, one mistake. That is the case here. We see Jack as not just ordinary but a valuable member of the community, certainly not as a murderer. That is the point of Boy A, that Jack as an adult is responsible and kind hearted, and not the killer he was sentenced as. Of course taking a life is nothing short of horrific, but he was a child then. Now Jack has become the victim, and the inner struggle is too much to bear.
I was unsure of Boy A early on, especially because it relied so much on Andrew Garfield’s performance. Thankfully, Garfield ends up being successful in creating his sympathetic, tortured character. Peter Mullan is also very good as Terry, bringing just the right amount of charm and sincerity to the role. They are both instantly likable on screen, and their relationship is one of the most interesting things in the movie. Katie Lyons is another endearing personality that helps the film’s cautious pace work.
John Crowley’s direction allows the movie to take it’s time with each detail to develop every scene carefully. He knows he must present Jack as a believable human being or the film’s point is lost. The sensual scenes between Jack and Michelle are masterful and achieve a level of realism in their relationship. I was disappointed that Crowley decided not to show the murder, which would have contributed a lot to the film. It’s almost cheating to do so, it makes it too easy to be on Jack’s side. A more fair film would have let us see the crime. I think Boy A could have been more provocative if they did.
The movie is rather slow but it pays off late, when the levee breaks. I was deeply affected by the ending, one of the more memorable sequences in movies this year. I don’t think I can recommend this to all casual moviegoers, but if you’re patient it’s worth it. Or, if you are someone who believes strongly in second chances, you will believe strongly in Boy A.